The employer-employee contract has fundamentally transformed over the last 30 years. As recently as the 1980s, it was not uncommon for someone to get a job with an employer, and to stay with that same employer for decades. Employers offered defined benefit plans, and both encouraged and rewarded long-term employment. The company man was revered. He was someone who had spent his entire career with the employer. He rose up through the ranks, and his career track was largely decided by his boss and the needs of the business. He got his raise and bonus each year and expected to retire comfortably at age 62. The company man was fearlessly loyal to the employer, and that was reciprocated. Companies avoided layoffs; they were a sign of leadership failure.
Enter the 1990s. The decade started off with a recession, and by the end of the 90s, layoffs, downsizing and rightsizing were common. They were no longer seen as failures, but rather as good management, and ways to reduce expenses and to increase shareholder value. Gone were defined benefit plans; they were replaced by defined contribution plans. Job security for employees was replaced by bloated compensation plans for executives. Thus ended the era of employee-as-asset, and a new era began – that of resources, rather than people.
You must take charge and be the CEO of your own career
Although people have been commoditized in this process, this shift away from employee/employer loyalty has led to an entirely new concept – employee free agency. You no longer depend on your employer to guide your career. You are a professional who has skills and experiences that are valuable to a company that is trying to solve a business problem. You will contract your services to that company for as long as it is mutually beneficial. This arrangement may take the form of full-time employment, or it may take the form of freelance work. Whether you work as an FTE or a contractor is not important. What is important is ensuring that you are building your arsenal of achievements to make yourself relevant and marketable. You must take charge and be the CEO of your own career. You are no longer merely an employee.
Build a portfolio of accomplishments. Always think about what you can achieve in any role you take. Document your accomplishments and quantify your achievements. Although individual roles will have discrete goals, you need to think of the larger picture, and how the work you’re doing now fits into your overall strategy.
Promote your brand as if it’s a consumer product. Have a marketing plan and a strategy. Remember that every interaction you have reflects your brand. Your brand is what is portable, and you can take it with you wherever you go.
Assess yourself and refine your competitive advantage. Assess your market, and strengthen and diversify your skill set.
Take risks. Take intelligent, strategic risks that move you toward your goals.
Manage your career as if it were a business. You have a product (you) that you are selling into your market. Take control; don’t leave this to your manager, your clients, your market. You need to drive your business forward.
Whether you work for a global corporation, a small business, or for yourself, it is crucial that you think and act like the CEO of your career. Think about the bigger picture and anticipate changes. Having a solid plan for where you’d like to take your career ensures that you stay on track.